[NOTEBOOK]A culture ruled by overachievers

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[NOTEBOOK]A culture ruled by overachievers

Let's travel to Gangneung, Gangwon province, where the world's very first wall adhesive electric lamp is still shining. The electric lamp was invented by the American inventor, Thomas Edison. Son Song-mok, 60, who works in the construction industry, is the person responsible for bringing the item to Korean soil.

Mr. Song is an oddball who in the last 40 years has traveled to at least 60 countries to collect Mr. Edison's inventions, many of which date back to the 19th century.

In 1992, Sotheby's Auction House filled with applause when the electric lamp was bought by Mr. Song, someone who had raised hardly an eyebrow in auction circles. The chairman of Hyundai Group, Chung Ju-yung, after hearing the news sent money to Mr. Song for his inspiring pursuit.

Mr. Song, who is a fanatic for the phonograph, has traveled the world collecting examples of Mr. Edison's 600 inventions: 4,000 phonographs and radios, 150,000 music records and 7,000 books on music. He has implored, persuaded and, in some cases, demanded acquisition of items.

As a result in 1992, Gangneung opened a science museum for phonographs, audio equipment, including Edison's inventions. Foreign visitors who come to the museum are astonished that such a museum with the world's first audio products is found in Korea.

I have been to the Edison museum in New Jersey in the United States. However, the number of phonographs in the Korean museum outnumbers those in the United States, where the invention was made.

At Mr. Son's museum visitors can listen to the music from Mr. Edison's first invention, a wax cylinder that captured and reproduced sound.

In this country there are a lot of museums that hold items collected by Koreans who journeyed to South America and Africa. It could be said that Koreans' fundamental nature is to overachieve to the point that their desire for accomplishment turns into a mania.

For a decade Korea has held the championship in baduk, or the Korean name for "go." With Lee Se-dol taking first place at the baduk competition, Koreans achieved the impossible by winning 17 consecutive games in the world baduk competition.

Cho Hoon-hyun, Lee Chang-ho, Yoo Chang-hyuk and Lee Se-dol hold the top positions in the baduk community and the second-tier players are shortening the gap. In addition, the 10 million baduk players in this country are cheering for the leaders. The leading player, Cho Hoon-hyun , is to baduk what Park Se-ri is to woman's golf.

Mr. Cho first swept the baduk competitions in 1989 and opened the possibility that it was possible for Koreans to compete in the world. Japanese and Chinese players said Koreans were more obsessed with victory than with the grace of the game. But baduk is not a victory sport.

The characteristic of Koreans that they have to win is easily found in their devotion to computer games, golf and gambling. Korea is the international Mecca of computer games. Last December at the world cyber game competition here in Seoul, Korean gamers monopolized the top rankings.

The booming success of the casino at Gangwon Land and signs in Korean that say "We accept watches and rings," near gambling sites in Las Vegas illustrate a distinctive quality of Koreans.

Korean women have won six of the 21 golf championships on the United States LPGA tour. Along with players from Sweden, the United States and Australia, Korean women top the rankings. On this year's tour, Park Se-ri ranks second in terms of the amount of prize money. Kim Mi-hyun ranks fourth, Park Ji-eun ranks 8th and Hahn Hee-won ranks 9th.

The ferocity of the democracy movement in Korea could be seen as the manifestation of the Korean disposition for victory.

Self immolation by fire during the student activist movement and citizens standing at point blank range of arms during the Gwangju democracy movement in the 1980s are a few examples. These acts have helped Korea achieve democracy in just a few years.

The disposition for victory is not always positive, however. The overheated competition for college entrance and the continuing disputes in the political circle are the negative side of this fundamental nature. Yet such a disposition has a greater possibility for accomplishment.

Koreans who can crumble the walls of the world's best with a strong desire for victory must be followed.


The writer is the life and leisure news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Il

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